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Wordy Review - Hitch-22, by Christopher Hitchens

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Wordy Review - Hitch-22, by Christopher Hitchens

Postby FrodoSaves » Sun Sep 05, 2010 5:06 pm

I rarely read biographies or memoirs. I tend to view them as vehicles for celebrities' and politicians' egos and since I think the number of people around who warrant idolization is cosmically small, reading about the minutiae of their lives is the last thing I would possibly want to do. Many are written by ghostwriters, wholly negating one possible reason for reading the genre, even though some which aren't probably should be (Going Rogue anyone?).

I made an exception for Hitch-22 on the basis that I think he’s an eloquent writer and has controversial but well-expressed views. There’s nothing quite like the humbling experience of feeling your convictions and opinions making an unsanctioned about face. And Hitchens has made me feel that way on more than one occasion.

Largely, Hitch-22 doesn’t disappoint, but it also suffers from the same malady that I sense pervades its author: that of being caught between two worlds. As a reading experience, it’s well-written, but verbose. Hitchens’ expressiveness doesn’t disappoint, acting always as fertilizer for your vocabulary. But his diction can be gratuitous: a rare synonym makes you stumble over a sentence when a more common one would have sounded less awkward.

Its narrative is also caught between the present and the past, and I was never sure whether his treatment of the latter was colored by the former. Hitchens, for example, was always a leftist, but as a member of the “International Socialists” his credentials were left untainted by the Trotskyists and Maoists and Stalinists and the buckets of other communist iterations. That’s not to say he wasn’t being honest, but the sensation of fence-sitting permeates the whole book.

This might seem strange considering his vehemence on many subjects, such as his unqualified defense of old school liberal values, but I’ll give you an example. At Oxford, he was a student socialist agitator, debating and hosting opposition leaders from around the world, but he was also willing to be wined and dined by some of his college’s most conservative elites.

This wasn’t just journalistic neutrality either, although there is plenty of that tongue-swallowing in order to meet and interview such people as a reactionary Argentinian President and all manner of Baathists, though he readily admits to the moral quandaries such events left him in. Instead, Hitchens seems to be perpetually afflicted by the bug of English middleclassism.

It’s best reduced to a need to insult and ridicule the upper class while unconsciously (or consciously but quietly) wanting to be one of them, peppered with self-loathing and salted with denial. As a socialist he cared little for concerns of nationalism or old alliances - until the invasion of the Falklands stirred his atrophied patriotic muscles, perhaps influenced by his father’s occupation during ‘the War’ as a Commander of the Royal Navy.

In many ways his decision to become an American citizen shouldn’t be surprising. Perhaps, finally fed up with the British caste system and its tedious undercurrents, he decided to call home a place where class was determined by the unsubtle measure of a man’s bank balance. But even this process was fraught with a degree of elitism. Rubbing shoulders with the likes of Michael Chertoff, Hitchens became an American on the steps of the Jefferson Memorial, on Jefferson’s birthday, with DC’s blooming cherry blossoms and Chertoff himself as witnesses.

In some ways passages like this read awkwardly. His literary allusions and frequent dropping of names can seem unnecessary, a bid to convince his readers of his educational and professional pedigree. But on closer inspection I think a different conclusion can be reached. Hitchens cannot be pigeonholed. A supporter of the invasion of Iraq, his was not the hawkish argument for self-defense or preemption, but his lifelong adherence to liberal freedoms, sadly since rendered trite, tired and hollow by one too many Republican States of the Union - but Hitchens himself never became so jaded. He lost many friends over his support for the 2003 invasion, and I think it is this current which is carried throughout Hitch-22, which even the title speaks to. His is an almost tragic refusal to fit squarely into any category, and for this he is probably misunderstood, and almost certainly disliked. But he is undoubtedly a complex character, and the conflicts and contradictions this gives rise to make Hitch-22 a worthwhile - but not imperative - read.
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Re: Wordy Review - Hitch-22, by Christopher Hitchens

Postby FrodoSaves » Tue Sep 14, 2010 1:42 pm

Interesting review: http://democracyjournal.org/article.php?ID=6769. Can't say I wholly agree with the conclusion though.
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Re: Wordy Review - Hitch-22, by Christopher Hitchens

Postby E-lad » Tue Sep 14, 2010 2:31 pm

Both great reviews (without having read the book myself.) I could only wish to be as articulate as Hitch, although I tend to long for shorter, more poignant sentences such as I find in the likes of Hemingway. That probably reflects my own impatience with superfluous wordiness, which as an engineer by training, I consider to be akin to an unfactored mathematical statement.
Life is a comedy for those who think, and a tragedy for those who feel.- Horace Walpole
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Re: Wordy Review - Hitch-22, by Christopher Hitchens

Postby Happy Humanist » Wed Sep 22, 2010 10:32 pm

Thanks for the review Frodo. I have never been a big Hitchens fan. He is just not my cup of tea. About all I can take are the few articles I read by him in Vanity Fair magazine, then I have to wade though all those damn ads (although the girls in VF are very nice). I think it's ironic that he got a fatal disease just after finishing his autobiography. I think that fact in itself disproves God. Why would God give Hitch another opportunity to diss him before ending his life?
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Re: Wordy Review - Hitch-22, by Christopher Hitchens

Postby FrodoSaves » Thu Sep 23, 2010 5:12 am

Happy Humanist wrote:Thanks for the review Frodo. I have never been a big Hitchens fan. He is just not my cup of tea. About all I can take are the few articles I read by him in Vanity Fair magazine, then I have to wade though all those damn ads (although the girls in VF are very nice). I think it's ironic that he got a fatal disease just after finishing his autobiography. I think that fact in itself disproves God. Why would God give Hitch another opportunity to diss him before ending his life?


Haha, a very fair point!

Yeah, Hitch is a controversial, polarizing figure. It was a strange book. It kind of felt like he was writing the story he thought others wanted to read, not how he would have observed his life if someone had said, "write, and don't worry what people think." It'd odd because he usually tackles subjects with total abandon - his book on Mother Theresa is certainly an eye-opening read.
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